Dry-Fire Guide for Training at Home

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Wouldn’t it be nice if there was an easy, safe, and free type of firearms training you could do at home to improve your skills and shoot better?

Well, there is, and always has been: It’s called dry fire.

Dry fire means shooting without ammo, and it’s a surprisingly helpful skill builder.  It can be done with rifles, pistols, and shotguns.

Dry firing shotgun
Handguns and rifles are what we most commonly think of when talking about dry firing, but shotgun practice is important too.

We are going to dive deep into how to dry fire, cover a few dry fire drills, and of course, bust a few myths along the way.  

First, lets look at…

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What Is Dry Fire?

Dry fire is the act of simulating the firing your weapon without ammunition.  

Basically, you’re doing everything you’d normally do to fire off a shot…but without any ammo in (or even near) the gun.

Dry fire is one of my favorite ways to train new shooters in how to handle a firearm safely, and to teach them the very basics of weapon’s manipulation.  

Dry fire can be done inside the home with no equipment beyond your handgun, but there are some things you need to know to stay safe, and there are a few things that can make dry fire training more effective.

Dry Fire Safety

Dry fire should be a completely safe activity.  Of course you need to unload your weapon, and visually and physically ensure the weapon is clear, and a chamber flag ($10.39) wouldn’t hurt, but after that you should be totally safe.

chamber flag for dry firing
These little babys make it impossible to have a round chambered.

 

When dry firing always keep the weapon pointed in a direction away from people, animals, etc.  Now is not the time to forget the basic rules of gun safety.

If you set your firearm down to take a break, use the restroom, etc, always re-clear the weapon before you resume training.  I go overboard and store ammunition in a different room entirely myself, and I recommend you do to.  

Why Dry Fire?

Dry fire allows you to practice a wide variety of skills.  Most importantly it allows you to build a foundation of basic skills.

Brilliance in the basics will lead to success in advanced manipulation.  With dry fire, you can practice proper grip, stance, trigger control, sight picture, and sight alignment.

A little dry fire every day can help establish good habits and build muscle memory.  For me, the biggest benefit was reducing my flinch.

two for flinching stand by me
Two for flinching!

I dry fired so much when the time came to do live fire my muscle memory was of a firearm that did not recoil.  Flinch became nonexistent.  I was able to train it out of me.

How To Dry Fire

Dry firing is pretty simple.  Choose a gun, clear it, and pick a target.  You can always hang a target but this isn’t necessary.

I typically utilize light switches as targets because they are quite small.

Practice the very basics of firing your weapon.  Maintain solid control of your weapon, and stress perfection.

Align the sights perfectly, pull the trigger perfectly, do not flinch or move in any way to disturb the sight.  The goal here isn’t to get a ton of repetitions, it’s to get quality training.

Anything that disturbs my sights is evident, and gives me a good idea what I need to correct.

Dry Fire Drills

The most basic drill is listed above, and it’s the very basics, here are a few more you can do for training purposes.

Coin Trick

This is a unique little trick you can do to really practice your trigger contol only needs a coin and a gun.  Balance the coin on the front sight, as the coin balances practice your grip control.

Coin on Front Sight Dry Firing
Coin on Front Sight Dry Firing

Any error will cause the quarter to fall, which will show you what you’re doing wrong. 

Draw!

Mcree draw
Who doesn’t love being a cowboy?

With a holster and gun you can practice your draw, as well as getting your gun on target, getting the sights aligned and firing.

Drawing practice can start slow, without a timer, and allow you to focus on the proper grip, draw, and how to get on target.  You have to learn it slowly before you can learn it fast.

Remember, slow is smooth and smooth is fast.

Only go faster as you perfect it at a slower pace.

You can also practice in a more defensive manner using a realistic silhouette target and practice placing shots center mass as you draw.

Reloading

Start with your slide locked to the rear, with an empty magazine inserted.  You’ll need a spare magazine and magazine pouch.  Remove the spring and follower from the spare magazine.

Get into your normal stance and firing position with the slide locked to the rear.  Put your sights on target, register one mental “Bang” and reload your firearm.

Removing the follower and spring will allow you to send the slide home during the reload.

You can also pick up some nice training magazines for this purpose that will match the fit and feel of a loaded magazine.

One Hand

one handed shooting
Shooting one handed, especially with your non-dominant hand, is always good practice.

Firing one handed accurately is twice as hard as firing with two hands. It’s also a good skill to have with a handgun in case of emergency. This is quite simple, practice dry firing with one hand.

Alternate between your dominant and non-dominant hand to practice with both. This allows you to train to be ambidextrous. You can also toss in practicing transitions between strong and weak hands.

Positions

You can also spice up any of the above drills by changing positions as you train. Training from the sitting, kneeling, and prone positions make you a more rounded shooter.

You can also practice engaging targets behind cover.  I like to practice with a doorway acting as my cover.  I train standing, kneeling, and even in the prone with both left and right hands. 

one handed doorway shooting
You can then try the same thing at the range.

When To Dry Fire

The most beneficial time to utilize dry fire is right after live fire.  Your muscle memory will be fresh with your mistakes.

I tend to run my students through the “dry fire Oreo”.  We start with dry fire, move to live fire and finish with dry fire.

The first few attempts of dry fire will often allow easy diagnoses of their shooting problems because mentally they’ll still be prepared to fire a live round.

When I say after shooting, I mean right after shooting, unload, show clear, and dry fire.  Use the same live fire range, same target, everything.  This muscle memory of mistakes will only last for about a dozen or so dry fire attempts before your body and mind remember it’s dry firing.

dry firing at the range
Shooting and then following up with dry fire is a great, cheap way to fix all sorts of issues with your shooting

Any clenching, eye closing, flinching, or sympathetic movement will be apparent.

Off the range and at home I suggest trying to do 15 minutes of dry fire a day.  That’s it, that’s all you need to be a better shooter.  Do it after work, before work, whenever you feel productive enough to give 15 focused minutes to dry firing practice.

But Won’t it Break My Gun?

The most prevalent myth is that dry fire is bad for your gun.  Like most every myth, this one contains a grain of truth.

There are a variety of firearms out there that dry firing is bad for, mainly rimfires.  With a rimfire, the firing pin strikes the rim of the round, and without a round present the fire strikes the rim of the chamber.

This can lead to mushroomed and dented firing pins as well as dented chambers.  The exception being some Ruger rimfires.  The manual for the Ruger 10/22, Page 20, says it’s perfectly safe to dry fire their 10/22s.  It’s also our best rimfire rifle for beginners, so everyone should have one…or three…in their collection.

A rugged and robust American classic

The second group of guns is older firearms.  This includes any revolver without a transfer bar and some older semi-automatics.  On one of these older revolvers and semi-autos, the firing pins go too far forwards because they didn’t hit a primer.  

This causes the firing pin to overtravel and for a portion of it to hit the sides of firing pin channel.

Over time this was fixed through the use of stronger firing pins in semi-automatics and the use of transfer bars and hammer blocks in revolvers.  If you own a modern firearm this is not an issue for you.

If you own an antique of any kind I’d be wary of dry fire, as well as any revolver with a firing pin attached to the hammer.  If you own one of these older firearms or a rimfire it’s best to make use of a Snap Cap ($16) while dry firing.

A Snap Cap is a dummy round with a soft primer.  This allows the firing pin to land harmlessly on the soft primer.  They even make Snap Caps for rimfire rifles, pistols, shotguns, and revolvers.

Optional Dry Fire Gear

Dry fire is prevalent enough that many shooters.  As such a number of different systems has come to be that make dry firing more enjoyable, more challenging and even more beneficial.

These systems aren’t needed to benefit from dry fire but are an excellent addition.  At the end of the day, you only need a gun and 15 minutes to dry fire train.

SIRT

The SIRT Pistol ($439.99) is a non-gun that replicates either a full sized handgun or pocket pistol.  There is also an AR 15 laser bolt that drops in to your rifle.

SIRT Pistol
This thing is pricy, but worth it if you want to seriously improve your shooting.

These systems weigh close to the same as the real guns it emulates,  and utilizes an integrated laser.

This laser activates every time the trigger is pulled, and it shows you where you theoretically hit.  The trigger pull is somewhat lighter than most real handguns, but for learning the basics, and having a 100% always safe option it is a solid contender.

SIRT options give you visual feedback and will function with most of the laser systems we will discuss a little later.  SIRT pistols are a little pricey, but the AR bolt is quite affordable.  You can even purchase extra SIRT magazines that replicated the real weight of loaded magazines for training drills

Laser Ammo Cartridges

The Laser Ammo brand offers a wide range of Laser Training options for firearms and even airsoft guns.  Their flagship is the Laser Ammo cartridge.  This cartridge fits in the chamber of your actual firearm and when the firing pin strikes the cartridge a laser is fired.

This allows safe and effective training with your own handgun for about half the price of the SIRT.  They have options for 9mms, 380s, 45 ACP, 10mm, 223, 12 Gauge, 40 S&W, 357 SIG, 45 Long Colt, 44 Magnum, and more.

Laser Ammo even offers a wide variety of Laser Targets that react to the lasers from the Laser cartridge, and some even interact with each other.

I’ve been using these systems for a long period of time and been very happy with them.  I have the 9mm cartridge kit ($139.00), the Laser Pet and I’ve spent a lot of time with the I-MTTS system.  

Check out more in our Best Laser Ammo & Targets article.

Laserlyte

There’s also the old stalwart…Laserlyte that’s lasted me for thousands of shots (and still going).  A little less expensive than the Laser Ammo versions at around $90 a pop.  You can check out the variety of calibers.

Laserlyte 9mm Laser Trainer
Laserlyte 9mm Laser Trainer

Plus some targets ($115) that let you know where you hit…and some that even make steel *ting ting* noises and move around.

Laserlyte SteelTyme
Laserlyte SteelTyme

MantisX

You’ve seen the lasers…now here’s something that gives you exact feedback from the comfort of your phone.

The MantisX ($150) attaches to your rail and lets you know exactly what’s wrong with your trigger pull and how to fix it.  Plus it also works live at the range.

High-Tech Dry-Firing
MantisX Firearm Training System

MantisX Firearm Training System

Full review here…spoilers…we really like it.

The MantisX mounts up easily to any weapon with a rail though if you mount to top or a side (rifle for instance) you must select that in the settings
Our MantisX on a Glock 17

Becoming a Dry Fire Pro

Becoming a dry fire pro takes time, patience, and the ability to really keep after it.  15 minutes a day can both improve your skills and maintain your skills when you can’t hit the range.  Dry fire training can’t fully replace live fire training but compliments it.  You’d be surprised a what a little dry fire can do for you.

Will you be adding dry fire training into your practice routine? Have any more questions about safe and effective training? Let us know in the comments below!

And check out our online Beginner Handgun Course…Gun Noob to Gun Slinger.  We cover the basics PLUS how to become a crack shot.

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Richard Hyman
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Richard Hyman

Excellent article and I took some great notes away from this. I’ve been researching how to get rid of a flinch that has crept back into my shooting. Still relatively tight shot groups but a definite down and left drift at higher calibers. So off to the internet I go and of course I started with Pewpewtactical. I recommend the site to everyone I know and you didn’t let me down in researching this. I made note of all the drills and a mental note to commit to the 15min a day to get rid of this flinch. Also, thanks… Read more »

Jon
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Jon

Hey Travis, great article. If you could only choose one dry fire system, which would you choose. I was thinking the iTarget but the MantisX looks like it might really be helpful

Tom
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Tom

I have the MantisX trainer and it it awesome. You can get analysis paralysis if you try to “fix” every shot feedback. Looking at the overall feedback is more beneficial. Live fire works even with others shooting around you. And it works for handguns, rifles and shotguns with some needing an adapter. It’s like having an instructor over your shoulder on each shot. Get it, you won’t regret it. Show to your shooting friends and they’ll likely get one!

Mary Ann
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Mary Ann

I have been working at dry-fire rather half-heartedly for about 2 months. I found it rather boring and non helpful. I then learned of the MantisX…wow. Now I find dry-fire training FUN and very informative. I’ve already learned two errors I wasn’t aware of along with improving other skills as well. It’s a great tool for the cost AND it can be used by multiple people on multiple firearms. You do need a rail to attach it. One of my favorites has it; looking for attachments for a couple others. My husband and I both have ‘accounts’ and take turns… Read more »

Tony
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Tony

Any thoughts on using an air pistol or other CO2 system for dry fire training?

Andrew
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Andrew

I bought a 9mm laser and a AR15 bolt laser… the latter is terribly built and hardly works. The former is okay but still not that great….